The European Space Agency's JUICE spacecraft is experiencing antenna problems

It's "a matter of millimeters," ESA says, as it explores options for setting the antenna free.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of ESA's JUICE spacecraft.
An artist's impression of ESA's JUICE spacecraft.


The European Space Agency's JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, or JUICE, has hit a snag.

The JUICE spacecraft, which launched on April 14, is at the very beginning of an eight-year journey to Jupiter and its icy moons. One of its science instruments is not behaving as intended.

The spacecraft's Jovian probe is currently struggling to deploy its Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna. In a recent statement, the space agency explained that RIME is "partially extended but still stowed away."

ESA's JUICE mission encounters early problems

The JUICE mission is expected to last a total of 12 years. Once it arrives at Jupiter in 2031, it will spend roughly four years studying its icy moons, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, which make up three of the four Galilean moons. If all goes to plan, the spacecraft will then alter its trajectory to enter into the orbit of Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede. This will make it the first space mission to orbit a moon that is not the Earth's.

JUICE has captured some images of Earth from space, showing that its monitoring cameras are working as intended. It has also successfully deployed its solar array and its magnetometer boom, which allowed it to take test measurements of its surrounding magnetic field.

Unfortunately, issues arose when ESA set out to deploy the spacecraft's 52-foot-long (16 meters) radar antenna. The antenna is partially deployed and has extended to roughly a third of its full length. ESA believes the problem may have been caused by a tiny pin that has not made way.

If ESA isn't able to fix the issue, the JUICE mission will go ahead with its other science instruments. However, the RIME antenna is a crucial part of JUICE's plans as it was designed to probe beneath the icy surfaces of Jupiter's moons.

JUICE antenna issue is a "matter of millimeters"

Mission officials have been working to free RIME, and they believe they will be able to fix the issue with a little finessing of the 2.67-ton (2.42 metric tonnes) spacecraft.

"Every day the RIME antenna shows more signs of movement, visible in images from the Juice Monitoring Camera on board the spacecraft with a partial view of the radar and its mount," ESA wrote in its statement.

One course of action ESA is considering is to perform an engine burn with JUICE to "shake the spacecraft a little." They could also rotate the spacecraft to warm its mount and radar by exposing it to the Sun. Whatever solution they try, ESA believes that "just a matter of millimeters could make the difference to set the rest of the radar free."

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